Thursday, June 5, 2008

the song of a nation

Here's a Canadian story some of my American readers might find amusing. As you may or may not know, Hockey Night in Canada is more than a bit of a staple in tons of our homes (not mine but that's beside the point). Broadcast since 1931, it's the broadcast of all the NHL games originally on radio and now on our national station, the CBC and world's oldest sports-related television program still on the air.

The theme song for this program, in use since 1968, is probably one of the most recognized pieces of music in the nation, second only to our national anthem. If you're Canadian, chances are the notes for this song are embedded somewhere in your DNA, hockey fan or not.

Following the Stanley Cup, the CBC announced that they do not have plans to renew the license for the theme song thus setting the nation into an outraged frenzy of "how dare they-ness" I haven't seen since the 96 referendum. The writer of the song, Dolores Clamen, is said to be "very sad and very disappointed." No doubt. Lord hope she's got sons because the fact that they could say "My mom's so cool she wrote the Hockey Night in Canada song!" ups their street cred for sure.

Here's the deal: The CBC has known for about a year that they might not renew the license and have been working on a back-up plan this whole time. This plan basically consists of holding a "Hey Canada, you write the new theme song!" contest in partnership with Nettwerk Records.

The problem seems to be a case of confused license renewal deadlines on the part of Scott Moore, head of CBC Sports and John Ciccone (no relation to Madonna), president of Copyright Music and Visuals. Their disagreement has escalated to such a public and fiery level that know people are doubtful they can find any type of deal at all by the new deadline, 5pm today.

Complicating the matter, a lawsuit filed by writer Clamen 4 years ago against the CBC that Moore says is preventing them from signing a new license. The deal? Clamen wants $2.5 million in damages for alleged breach of copyright on part of the CBC when they used the song outside of Canada and sold it as a ringtone, altering the arrangement without her approval.

You're probably thinking? Well she's probably sitting on a pile of money if they've used the song for so long right? Wrong! Apparently Clamen was paid for writing the song for MacLaren Advertising but didn't start receiving royalties for it until the early 1990's! And the royalties weren't retroactive! Currently, she makes about $500 every time the song is played.

So yes, there are 2 valid sides to this story. The CBC's hands are tied. Clamen is tugging on the heartstrings of rabid Canadian hockey fans. What's to be done? Well, the CBC better find a way to fix this and fix it fast because this country loves its hockey and for so many who don't even change their underwear lest it jinx their team, what's going to happen if they dump the much-loved lifetime theme song? Out and out panic I say. The amount of money the CBC makes solely from HCIC? Suck it up and find the money somewhere (On a sidenote, we learned at work that every year the Leafs don't make the playoffs the CBC loses $10 million in revenue).The mere mention of possibly changing the song has set the country into an uproar. Actually do it and there'll be riots in the streets to be sure.

People are balking at the notion of this song being a "cultural icon" because of it's association with a sporting event whose primary audience is beer-bellied men and is played by sweaty men without teeth. That's rubbish. When a song can be hummed by almost every Canadian on the planet, and yet remains unrecognized by almost everyone else, it then becomes by definition a Canadian popular cultural icon. Whatever it's associated with is irrelevant.

We're a stubborn people who fear change. Don't test us.


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